Author and futurist Jack Uldrich, followed Crisson with an uplifting presentation about how technology can help utilities “jump the curve,”—if we recognized what the trends are and where they are headed. “Future is here,” Uldrich explained, “it is just not evenly distributed.”
Using cell phones, Google and Netflix as just a few examples, Uldrich illustrated how quickly a technology can grow and change behavior in unexpected ways. People are so busy in day to day jobs, they don’t notice the 800 lb gorilla walking through the room. How emerging technologies can help utilities. You can’t just understand where trends are. Those trends are going to jump the curve. They grow exponentially. Ten years ago, GOOGLe hosted 25,000 searches per day, today 25,000,000,000.
Solar, fuel cells, smart meters, synthetic biology and “micro-grids” are technologies that are poised for explosive growth. Utilities must predict where these technologies will take the industry in two, four, 10 years. Uldrich pointed out that on Dec. 17, 1903, the news was all about a “record-shattering “63-day automobile trip across country. Little notice was taken of the 12-second flight the Wright Brothers took in their flying machine at Kitty Hawk. “That 12 seconds rendered the 63-day trip irrelevant,” he said.
Nanotechnology is becoming the “flying machine” of the 21st century—it will change our civilization more in the next 25 years than during all the 20th century. We have to begin thinking about where this change is taking us.
Practical applications of nanotechnology include new ceramic materials that radically increase efficiency of transmission lines. It will eventually make safe storage of nuclear waste possible, create nanofilters for cleaning particulates and make lighting will be so efficient, costs will decrease by $100 billion. New materials will make wind turbines radically smaller and three times more efficient and give us a way to store that power.
Small changes lead to big profits, Uldrich pointed out. Nano-enhanced textiles increase 1000-fold.
Tools are radically more powerful. Computers were capable of 70 trillion calculations per second in 2008. Super computers are now up to 1 quadrillion and in a few more year, it will be 10 quadrillion. This will affect your business. This trend will continue as we do things we have always done in ways we cannot predict:
- Smart home controls, which cost Bill Gates $2.5 million to install 10 years ago, can now be installed for about $40,000. A chip being developed now will allow consumers to control their home remotely for as little as $72 per year.
- Demand-side management will be done through real-time monitoring. Self-healing grids will make massive power blackouts obsolete.
- Solar farms now have a 15- to 20-year payback, but plastic-printed solar cells will change the economics. The field of solar panels will become the solar wrapped roof.
- Fuel cells developed by Bloom Energy now cost $750,000 and are the size of a parking space. The company predicts that in 10 years, its fuel cell will cost only $3,000. Coupled with cheap solar that development will radically alter the utility business.
- The creation of artificial life is a huge story left unreported. Designer bugs—genetically engineered bacterial—will be able to eat CO2, excrete fuel. This is a sustainable carbon-based loop.
These technologies are a lot closer than they appear.
Big industries can become obsolete QUICKLY if they don’t jump the curve. Even though changes seem to happen slowly at first, it suddenly becomes mind-bogglingly rapid. That sometimes requires companies to make large capital investments in technology that won’t be around in 30 years. This is painful but necessary to keep the company in business.
We must be willing to unlearn what we know. Information that was true once, changes, but often our minds don’t—not fast enough, anyway.
The future belongs to those who have the courage to chart a new course. Tomorrow is not going to look pretty much like yesterday, said Uldrich. Utilities can help to create a fundamentally new future.